Transitions and turnover – Young adult book discussion group

Note: The iYouth blog will be posting blog entries from MLIS students on topics of their interest.

This article is about a specific organization and minors within it. For privacy reasons I am leaving out names, locations and specifics in order to protect the anonymity of those involved.

Two years ago, through the library grapevine I learned that the role of facilitator for a book discussion in a group home for teens came available. As a library employee and prospective MLIS student I jumped at the chance to do something that the ‘real librarians’ get to do. How hard could it be? I like books, I like teens. This will be a breeze!

I took to the task well, until the day I came in and everyone I had been working to get to know had been replaced. Invasion of the body snatchers? No. Turnover. Every teen book club has it, and mine more than most. When Middle school kids move on to high school, they typically change groups. When graduation day comes some teens aren’t even teens anymore! Each time this happens new faces appear. We as facilitators need to make them feel welcome and comfortable, even when we ourselves are feeling a keen sense of stranger danger.

Read on to find out what strategies have helped me engage this group and what I learned to adjust to high turnover.

New kids! I heard there was turnover but there is not a familiar face here. If everyone is new, no one has read the book. What am I supposed to do for the next hour?

For two years I have hosted a book discussion in a group home for teens. The only thing that never changes is the turnover. Kids leave the home. They are released and go on to live their lives. Or withdraw early leaving a place for someone else. This means I can never predict when I am going to see an individual again. While these departures are often a cause for celebration, it presents a unique challenge.

Coming in to a new group means I don’t know any names.  This makes Introductions imperative. I play a game where each person goes around the table, introduces themselves and tells me a new fact over and over until I can go around the room and name each person. They think it is funny and they all learn something about one another.

Next we discuss the book. I come equipped with secondary questions in case they haven’t read the book. I put these on 3×5 cards and I have repurposed a twister spinner where I write down each name during the introductions. Taking turns with the spinner, when it lands on a name they get to draw a card, read the question and go around the room until each person gets a chance to answer. For October we discussed Neil Schusterman’s “Unwind”.


The goal is to have at least ten cards ready to go, and they can discuss their own observations and thoughts as we go along. Once we have addressed all of the questions, there is the task of assigning the next book. I offer three books and ask them to tell me which one they want to read, based on just the cover. Then we read three possible summaries and ask which of those they like best. Finally they are tasked pairing the correct cover with the synopsis. Once that is done they choose. Majority rules.  Maybe I will get to see them all again to discuss the book they chose. If not, I know I tried to make it fun, the hour was not wasted and they have been exposed to new reading material.

This book club strategy was born of frustration. It would be hard for anyone to be in a new place with some weird library lady and no knowledge of the topic. After a few months of blank stares I asked our Young Adult services librarian for help. She dropped a bomb on me by saying, “Have you asked them what they want out of this?” I realized that I had not! When the next month rolled around, I asked what they wanted.

I should note, the book group is mandatory. They can’t opt out, but there is no set expectation of how it should go. That month’s teens came up with three loose target points. Games, Junk food and something to goof off with.

Challenge Accepted!

I made it into a game with the spinner and the cards. I asked the staffers about snacks and I learned I could bring whatever I want as long as it comes from a store. The kids love this aspect because the home is otherwise extremely nutrition conscious. This month the snack will be gummy bears. Why gummy bears you ask?



When you unwind (disassemble) a gummy bear, it can be put back together in a variety of ways! Gross? Yes. Fun? Yes. Icebreaker? Yes! Breaking away from negative associations with assigned reading? A thousand times YES!! My group still has its share of challenges, but there are always ways to take the edge off. Allowing the kids to take ownership is not as scary as it seems and it  makes a huge difference in the interaction, not just in the form of enthusiasm for the book club, but in their quality of life while they are going through a transitional time.

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In the Field: Meet Justin Hoenke

Welcome to “In the Field”, a new blog series here on the iYouth Blog. I’m Rebecca Z Dunn, a MLIS student here at the University of Washington iSchool, and I will be interviewing successful, innovative youth services professionals from all across the country. So hold onto your hats, and get ready to be inspired by amazing individuals doing amazing things for children and teens in the library-sphere.

Today, I’m excited to introduce Justin Hoenke, Teen Librarian extraordinaire from Chattanooga Public Library!


Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, where you work, and what you do there?

I am a 33-year-old human being, male, who is married to Haley Hoenke and with her I have two boys named Finn and Aero. We live in Chattanooga, TN in a wonderful neighborhood named Highland Park and I work as the Teen Librarian for The 2nd Floor of the Downtown Chattanooga Public Library. My job is to work with tweens and teens ages 8-18 and share awesome things with them. Those awesome things include books, movies, music, 3D printing, technology, video games, and just about anything else that comes up in conversation. I really like music, Nintendo video games, and going on adventures with my family.

What project or program have you recently completed/are currently working on at work that you’re proud of?

I really loved our DEV DEV: summer of code program that we ran for four weeks in July.  Read more about the program here.  The basic gist of the program is simple: we brought 50 teens ages 12-18 into the library and taught them about HTML, CSS, Python, and Robotics for four week.  The program was a partnership between the Chattanooga Public Library, Engage 3D, AIGA Chattanooga, and the Benwood Foundation.  Not only did it give a lot of teens an opportunity to learn about technology but it was also a very community driven collaboration.

When did you realize you wanted to work in libraries? And specifically with youth?

I totally fell into libraries and working with teens. My mother-in-law is an amazing librarian.  One day she told me “you know, you’d be great at this job” so I went back to school and got my masters degree in library science.  While I was doing that, I got an internship and they asked me “do you want to work with the teens?” and I said “sure, why not?!?!”.  And now here I am 5 years later.  What it all boils down to is this: I like helping people and I like doing things that are fun and exciting.

Looking back, what do you wish you’d learned in library school that you could utilize in your work today?

Less time in the classroom, more time “in the trenches.”  Some of the best things I’ve ever learned about libraries has come from being out with the public.  You learn to think in the moment, make quick changes, and make sure your community leaves the library with a smile on their face.

What advice do you have for library school students looking to… Well… Do what you do?!

Be honest, be genuine, be enthusiastic, and keep an open heart.  Libraries can be a tricky career.  The moment you think you have everything under control is the moment where everything changes.  Always be open to that change.

Favorite part of being a youth services librarian?

Sending a kid, tween, or teen away from the library with a smile on their face.  I like it when they run out of the building super exciting about something they discovered.  I like it when they lose all control of their emotions and start talking about the library in such a loud and enthusiastic voice.

How can we keep up with what you’re up to?

I tweet about the things I encounter in life @justinlibrarian.

I write about library stuff that I’m involved in at

I write about bigger library ideas at

JH Avatar

Rebecca Zarazan Dunn is a first-year MLIS student at the University of Washington and a Youth Services Library Assistant at the Lawrence Public Library. She blogs regularly about children’s books and adventures in the library, among other things, at Sturdy for Common Things. You can follow her on twitter at @rebeccazdunn

John Goddard -iYouth Webmaster


My name is John Goddard. I’m the iYouth webmaster, though I share a lot of the web mastering responsibilities with the rest of the tech-savvy members of iYouth. I’m a second-year residential MLIS student. After graduation, I would love to get a job as a teen services librarian at a public library but would enjoy working with younger kids as well. I’m interested in how youth engage and learn with technology, how libraries can help young people create rich digital content, and generally how to keep (or make) libraries cool, innovative, and enlightening places to be. I currently work at Suzzallo-Allen Libraries in the Media Center and Circulation departments. I’m also doing a teen/adult services DFW at the Capitol Hill Branch of the Seattle Public Library.

I love camping, hiking, cooking elaborate meals, and listening to music of all kinds. I live in Seattle’s U-District with my girlfriend, Shannon.

Lisa Jordan – iYouth Treasurer


Hi Everyone,

I am a second year residential MLIS student. Before grad school, I was from Colorado where I worked in a couple of libraries and got my teaching degree in Early Childhood Education.

Currently I work for the Seattle Public Library as a Page and volunteer at the Washington Talking Book and Braille library, among other things.  In my free time I love hanging out with friends, reading YA books, traveling, and going on walks (even in the rain J).

After graduation, I am planning to pursue a career as a children or teen services librarian in a public or school library. My vision as a 21st century librarian is to cultivate a youth’s love of reading through the simple act of a carefully selected text, to develop a library atmosphere where patrons feel welcome and engaged enough to learn about the world in a global perspective, and to connect the library with the larger community through outreach: amid neighboring schools, with individual families, and in community partnerships.

I am very excited to meet all of you. If you have time to get involved even in a small way with iYouth please do! I look forward to hanging out, messing around, and geeking out with all of you in the year to come!!!

Nate Halsan – iYouth Co-President

nycicecreamI am a second year student in hot pursuit of my MLIS. My career interests focus on youth services – particularly to children from birth through 14.

Prior to joining the field of librarianship, I worked in higher education. I spent 5 years in Berlin, Germany working towards a Master’s of European Studies at the Viadrina University (completed June 2010). While in Berlin, I also worked for a study abroad company aiding undergraduate students in cultural adjustment and independent research projects. Upon returning to the US, I worked first for Lexia Study Abroad in Hanover, New Hampshire where I was responsible for Northeast recruitment and curricular oversight for European programming (Berlin, Krakow, Paris, Rome and Budapest/Transylvania). From Hanover I moved to Irvine, California where I spent a year and a half as an international student adviser at the University of California.

I am stoked for the collaborative and enthusiastic environment our student run organization brings to the iSchool. Get involved! Let’s make iYouth the rad organization we all want it to be!

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